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Olympic Games and the EU Refugees: The New Diplomacy

Olympic Games and the EU Refugees: The New Diplomacy
In a landmark decision taken by the International Olympic Committee, the Olympic flame passed the Elanos refugee camp near Athens and more remarkably, a Syrian refugee Ibrahim al-Hussein was torchbearers of the flame when it passed through the camp on April 26. Ibrahim al-Hussein, 27, Syrian athlete who lost his leg in a bombing and who found refuge from war in Greece, commented the significance of the event thus: “am carrying the flame for myself, but also for Syrians, for refugees everywhere, for Greece, for sports, for my swimming and basketball team. My goal is to never give up. But to go on, to always go forward. And that I can achieve through sports”. The symbolic gesture is meant to show solidarity with the world’s refugees at a time when millions are fleeing war and persecution worldwide. Credit must be given to the International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach for keeping up to his words. It may be reminded here that during his visit to an Eleonas refugee camp in January 2016, Bach announced that a refugee would be asked to relay the torch through the camp.
The IOC President hopes the move will send a message and show solidarity. “We wanted to give them a flag with the Olympic flag, we wanted to give them an anthem, to identify with the Olympic anthem, and in this way sending a message of hope to all the refugees in the world that they see what human beings, what refugees in this case can achieve even under these very difficult circumstances they are suffering from now.” In a similar vein, Isadora’s Kouvelos, president of International Olympic Academy highlights upon the symbolic importance of this event in the following remarks: “Olympianism is peace, friendship, truce, so of course it has to pass via a camp, a refugee camp to show the people what is the importance of peace, truce and what is the importance of helping and sitting someone who is desperate and someone who is in need of help”.
Greek Olympic Committee President Spyros Capralos too believes in the integrative potential of IOC’s gesture and remarks that by bringing the flame in the refugee camp in Athens, it was going to be something very symbolic and would construe a very strong moment for the Olympic Movement because the flame is there to unite people. The IOC has been prominently contributing towards measures for the benefits of the refugees worldwide. The IOC, which has been working in close collaboration with the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) for two decades, has already seen thousands of refugees benefit from sports programmes and equipment donated by the IOC.
The IOC made the $2m emergency fund available in September 2015 to National Olympic Committees organising programmes to help refugees worldwide. In addition to the $2m fund, the IOC is also in the process of identifying athletes living in forced displacement who have the potential to qualify for the Olympics. The IOC has already provided sports scholarships to a number of these refugee athletes. Jacques Rogge, IOC’s honorary president, who is also the UN’s Special Envoy for Youth Refugees and Sport, is apt in his remark that such symbolic gestures aim to raise awareness about the refugee crisis. The intrinsic value of sports heals many wounds, brings hope to the refugees and can help to forge their ideas and to integrate in society.
Photo Credit : Shutterstock

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